Lehman-Wilzig, Tami, and Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz. The Boston Chocolate Party. Illustr. by Fede Combi. Apples & Honey Press, 2022.
The Whole Megillah (TWM): What led you to write about colonial chocolate?
Tami Lehman-Wilzig (TLW): It’s a quirky answer. I’m an advertising copywriter by profession. I read Rabbi Prinz’s book On the Chocolate Trail shortly after it came out in 2013. Once I finished reading the section on Jews and chocolate during the American colonial period, the copywriter in me immediately said “The Boston Chocolate Party.” No story in mind, just if you will, an advertising slogan. But the title never left me. I felt I could do something with it for the children’s PB world once I didn’t have a deadline over my head – which was absolutely never.
TWM: How did you partner with Rabbi Prinz who wrote about the establishment of the chocolate industry for the adult market?
TLW: Fast forward four years. By then I was semi-retired and the editor of Kar-Ben’s “My Very Own Jewish Calendar,” which entails collecting and writing up four interesting Jewish-related tidbits for each month. Some months have no obvious Jewish connection and I do mental somersaults to create them. February is such a month. When I discovered that February is National Chocolate Lovers Month, I remembered Rabbi Prinz’s book and contacted her about doing an item on it. Of course, the title “The Boston Chocolate Party” popped up on my mental screen, but I forced myself never to talk about a possible collaboration. As the Halacha says: אין מערבבים שמחה בשמחה – one should never combine one simcha with another.
You can imagine the smile that crept across my face when a week after I closed the calendar item with Debbie, I receive an email from her asking: “would you like to collaborate on a children’s book?”
TWM: What motivated you to combine the story with Hanukkah?
TLW: Another quirky answer, but if you work in advertising, you have a quirky head. One day I wondered what the exact date of the Boston Tea Party was. When I saw it was December 16, 1773, I immediately thought Hmmm…when was Hanukkah that year? I looked up the Jewish year for 1773, looked for Hanukkah on that year’s calendar and voila, there it was! The Boston Tea Party fell on the last night of the holiday. How could I ignore that fact? What a rich connection!
TWM: What research did you conduct and how?
TLW: Debbie provided the background for Jews in chocolate during that period. She took on all historical questions, which were many. Debbie is a real stickler for details, which is fantastic. Thanks to her we were able to incorporate the special cups used to drink hot chocolate and even point out in our “Behind the Story” section at the book’s end that George Washington had his own chocolate cup and what it looked like. Since we wanted to make the story as kid friendly as possible, we decided to incorporate a colonial game. Debbie took that on as well and discovered that Jackstraws was the colonial forerunner of Pick-Up Sticks.
Finally, the actual chocolate making process during the colonial period; that was some procedure! I found a YouTube film from Old Gettysburg Village showing the step-by-step process. I felt that we had to incorporate it into the story. I don’t remember how many times I watched it and jotted down the details in order to write the double spread where Joshua’s family creates their own home chocolate factory.
TWM: Do you belong to a writer’s group? Why/why not?
TLW: Being part of a critique group is essential for every writer. I belong to a group where all the others are American based, plus I have my “critiquers” in Israel. All-in-all, every story I write is sent out to at least 10 people. I write for school-age, picture book readers, so first and foremost is the feedback on each story’s literary quality. Is there a good arc with the proper amount of tension? A fulfilling ending? Character development? What works? What needs to be changed? All of my readers on both sides of the Atlantic are vital for this stage. Next, comes the fact that I’ve been living in Israel for 45 years. That makes my American writer’s group especially important. Countries change over the years. What was acceptable yesteryear maybe taboo today. I have to keep pace with new boundaries, and that group helps keep me in line.
TWM: What were the greatest challenges to writing this story?
TLW: Honestly, getting the right story. We worked on several versions with different scenarios, rejected by numerous publishers. So, we took a long vacation from it. Over a half year later, my husband and I were on a cruise with friends. Don’t ask me what the trigger was but all of a sudden, I wrote to Debbie and said: “I’ve got it!” And so, the present version was born.
TLW: To begin with, working with Debbie was a most pleasurable experience. Co-authoring a book can often lead to a dicey situation. This was not at all the case with us. There was an immediate rapport and an excellent work balance, plus we struck up a friendship that I am sure will last beyond this book. Once we signed contract with Apples and Honey, I found working with them an enriching collaborative process. Their editorial comments were on target. Their openness to our comments and suggestions regarding the illustrations was most gratifying. I could feel my growth as an author throughout, which was a very rewarding feeling.
TWM: What’s next for you?
TLW: Oh…there’s so much! My next book – Luis de Torres Sails to Freedom (Kar-Ben) is coming out on June 6, 2023 – which happens to be my birthday. What a magnificent gift! This story deals with the Spanish Inquisition and has a unique Tisha B’Av connection. I can’t wait for it to appear.
In the Fall of 2024, my next book with Apples and Honey – On the Wings of Eagles – will bow on the scene and I am very excited about it. It’s about the Aliyah of Yemenite Jews to Israel with a crazy connection to the United States through the specific air carrier that carried out the mission (total surprise!). Living in Israel, I was able to interview adults of Yemenite extraction who were children on that mission. What a story!
I am about to sign contract with Apples and Honey for another book dealing with Yemenite Jewish culture that should be coming out in the Spring of 2025. And I recently submitted a story to a different publisher on Rembrandt and the influence of his Sephardi Jewish neighbors on his painting. Waiting to receive an answer on that one.
Plus, yes…my hyperactive mind is constantly thinking about other new stories that will bring our rich Jewish history and cultural heritage to the fore, not to mention some that will hopefully strengthen the bond between American Jews and Israel. But Barbara, the latter is another interview. The struggling bond between Jews of both countries is of great concern to me.
Thank you so much for interviewing me!
For more about Tami Lehman-Wilzig, please see her website.
Thanks so much, Susan!
Terrific, Tami! And, thank you, Barbara.
Thank you, Rabbi Prinz, for writing your book!
I loved reading the story behind the story of this fabulous book! Congratulations Tami and Rabbi Prinz on this ‘delicious’ book!
Thanks so much, Annette!
he book looks beautiful–and delicious! Thanks for the interview, Barbara.
Thanks so much, Arlene!